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The Privacy & Security Research Paper Series

Social media like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube have become tremendously popular in recent years. Their popularity provides new opportunities for data collection by state and private companies, which requires a critical and theoretical focus on social media surveillance. The task of this paper is to outline a theoretical framework for defining social media surveillance in the context of contemporary society, identifying its principal characteristics, and understanding its broader societal implications. The analysis is based on a threefold model of information that includes processes of cognition, communication, and cooperation as well as on a model of modern society that discerns various societal spheres (economy, state, civil society, culture). Social media surveillance is a form of surveillance, in which different forms of sociality (cognition, communication, co-operation) converge as well as different social roles of individuals (in the economy, politics, and civil society), so that surveillance becomes a monitoring of different (partly converging) activities in different (partly converging) social roles with the help of profiles that hold a complex networked multitude of data about humans. Societal implications of social media surveillance include categorical suspicion, social sorting and discrimination via cumulative disadvantages, as well as surveillance creep. Social media surveillance has academic as well as political implications.

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